Cold. Detached. Surprisingly calm.
That is how several witnesses described Kelli A. Jacobsen after the 1-year-old boy she baby-sat lost consciousness and had to be rushed to the hospital in 2011, said Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.
As doctors and nurses at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland tried to get straight answers about what happened to Ryder Morrison so they could save him, Jacobsen was overheard saying to herself, “I can’t believe I did this” and questioning if she would get in trouble, Miller told jurors Monday.
Ryder died from abusive head trauma one day after celebrating his first birthday.
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Jacobsen, now 31, is on trial in Benton County Superior Court for the Richland toddler’s death. This is her second time facing a jury, after her first trial in May 2013 ended with jurors deadlocked.
Miller, in his opening statement Monday, focused on the live-in nanny’s demeanor on June 22, 2011. From the Facebook posts and text messages Jacobsen wrote that morning about being exhausted, to the moment she asked a neighbor for help, until her time at the Richland hospital when medical staff noted that her calm behavior did not appear to be a symptom of shock.
Jacobsen is charged with first-degree manslaughter, not murder, Miller advised jurors.
“The state is not alleging that the defendant is some sort of monster and she wanted Ryder to die,” he said.
The question for jurors, Miller said, is: “Did she do something to Ryder that constitutes criminal negligence or reckless behavior? (Did she) do something that caused the death even if she didn’t want (Ryder) to die?”
“We believe after you hear all the evidence, you’re going to come to the sad conclusion — it’s a sad case — your decision is going to be (Jacobsen) needs to be held accountable for Ryder’s death,” he said.
Defense attorney Shane Silverthorn told the jury there is no clear evidence his client was responsible.
Ryder died at 1:45 p.m., 1½ hours after paramedics responded to his home at 1314 Williams Blvd. for a call about an unresponsive toddler. The window for the brain injury goes back to 1:45 p.m. the day before, Silverthorn said.
“So while convenient to say that Kelli is the person who was with Ryder, there are other people in that 24-hour window,” he said.
There is a reason to doubt that Jacobsen was the cause of Ryder’s brain hemorrhage, the Ellensburg lawyer said.
“But for that traumatic brain injury, he might still be alive today,” he said. “That happened in a time frame when at least one, two, three, four people had access to Ryder, not just my client. … You won’t be able to know who did this.”
Jacobsen’s retrial started July 13 with jury selection. After opening statements, Miller and Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Holland called their first witnesses.
Danielle Sundwall said she was at home next door when her panicked daughter said there was an issue with Ryder.
Sundwall got into Tawney Johnson’s home and Jacobsen, who was on the phone, passed the toddler to her “like a football toss,” she said.
Ryder’s eyes were rolled back in his head, he was breathing hard and was fighting for his life, said Sundwall, who noted she was told the toddler had fallen, though she did not see any marks on his head.
“From when I walked into the house, the whole atmosphere was wrong. There was no elevated voices, no panic,” Sundwall testified. “I really thought the phone call was to a family member or to a friend. I would never have guessed it was a 911 phone call.”
Steve Waite, a Richland firefighter/EMT who drove the ambulance, said based on his training and his experience with his own kids, he found Jacobsen’s story incredulous because children don’t just fall down and lose consciousness.
Waite interviewed Jacobsen on the short trip to the hospital so he could pass the information on to his colleague, who was telling physicians what to prepare for upon their arrival, he said.
Court started 45 minutes late Monday because of issues with two jurors.
One juror had a medical problem develop over the weekend from a previous operation, and her doctor wrote the court saying she would need antibiotics and many follow-up appointments over the coming weeks.
Judge Vic VanderSchoor said he “didn’t want to” excuse her because it would leave only one alternate with the trial expected to last at least two more weeks, but he agreed to it.
Another juror “thought she wasn’t chosen and didn’t have to come in,” the judge said, noting that she finally arrived so court could go into session.